Do you want to try the cronut or do you want to taste the hype? Personally, I wonder how it tastes — could the experience justify the mammoth queue — but I’m content with my non-doughnutified croissant. Though I would gladly wait hours for a classic pastry, they don’t make people feel as if they are participating in something unique, exciting and modern. That’s where the cronut satisfies. It’s not a Franken-pastry; it’s a Franken-social phenomenon. Whether or not you want to eat a cronut, the foodstuff captures collective imagination because it combines modern foodie culture’s love of hype, exclusivity and hedonistic treats.
When I first heard about the cronut, I didn’t understand what it was. Although the name implies a combination of ‘doughnut’ and ‘croissant,’ the vaguely vulgar calque doesn’t immediately call to mind either. Nor does its appearance. The sugary circle is taller than a doughnut and looks nothing like a croissant. Is the dough laminated and then fried? Should it be bare like a croissant or glazed like a doughnut? Are the fillings like what you’d find in a gourmet doughnut or simply strange? Despite Dominique Ansel’s description, he identifies it as a ‘unique creation’ and ‘that many have described to be a croissant-doughnut hybrid’ leaving more questions as to what the pastry really is. To understand ‘cronut’ as a Franken-pastry would require a baking lexicon that the average American does not possess. As Ansel’s descriptions suggest, the cronut must be understood as itself. It is the hype. It is a product of New York and of 21st century foodie culture.
That’s why it’s impossible to discuss the cronut without discussing the frenzy it provoked. In a society that promotes validating our meals by incessantly instagramming them, the mythically long cronut line validates our enjoyment of the food. Rather than slapping a filter on a plate of cacio e pepe to enhance its ‘cravablity’ (and to hide the fact you didn’t manage the formaggio fuso), you can suffer through the rite of waiting to ensure you’re enjoying quality. The cronut’s quality doesn’t exist independently. It is shared through the collective waiting experience. Taking that first bite you taste the fruits of your labour, of your long wait. The anticipation has built it up, but it can’t let you down. That’s because you haven’t simply purchased a must-have product or snagged a hard-to-get dinner reservation, but taken part in an experience and earned a story that you will be able to whip out whenever you need to. Sure, maybe it’s a bit too sweet. Maybe you aren’t a lover of this month’s lavender-infused flavour but, hey, it’s unique. You can’t compare the Franken-pastry and its Franken-experience with eating the salted-caramel doughnut from Dough at Smorgasburg. You can’t compare it to eating a croissant in Paris. It’s something different. It’s not about the food; it’s about the union of food and hype.
But then how do we account for the cronut knock-offs that pop up in every other bakery in the city? Since none of these imitation pastries are able to use the word ‘cronut’, they are marked as imposters. These substitutes may teach you what a doughnut/croissant hybrid might look and taste like, but they don’t allow you to participate in the cronut hype. Without waiting on line, bragging about your foodie ‘conquest’ and instagramming your reward, you’re simply eating a silly, scary new food product.
In creating the cronut, Dominique Ansel didn’t so much invent a new pastry as respond to cultural cues to create a foodie phenomenon. While we might be interested to know if the cronut tastes good enough to warrant the hype, when we eat the pastry we’re affirming our participation in a specific cultural moment. We are part of a dedicated ‘in’ crowd, who knows quality, is on the cutting edge and embodies the democratic spirit of waiting your turn. We want to say that we understand food is a shared experience, rather than a mass-produced one like Dunkin’ Donuts offers. Ultimately, the cronut’s specific flavour, it’s outside appearance or cream filling doesn’t matter. Saying that you want to try a cronut is akin to saying you want to immerse yourself in 21st century foodie society.